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I recently suffered a bit of a fallout in a teaching group I'm frequently a participant in. This was because I kept making brutally honest criticisms about their style of teaching (e.g. "your teaching style needs a lot of work because [x]"), which others didn't really like me doing, and those other people got fed up with those actions and got mad at me. But the thing is, they seemed absolutely fine with my doing said action earlier on.

Most of the people in the group are much older than me and have more years of teaching experience, but don't really mesh with the culture of the students (which is part of the feedback I try to give them). (In fact, it's worth mentioning that I was offered a summer job because of my young age and my knowledge of the students' own culture.) They generally don't let me know about how they feel about my feedback until it gets on their nerves, which can happen many variable times later. This seems to happen with a majority of the group, but the feedback is mostly individual, unique per group member.

As a mildly autistic person, I have difficulty picking up nonverbal cues, and I need others to let me know when I make some social mistake, or how they feel about a certain social action I take. A lot of the time, others don't tell me what I did wrong, holding it off in the name of "politeness", and only when they're finally fed up with it do they break down on me. I usually do ask them why they felt that way, and they don't tell me. (I'd like to know so that I can improve my feedback.)

I initially attempted to prevent this situation by telling the other participants that I'm mildly autistic and I'd prefer it if others would tell me if they wanted my criticism to be phrased in a different way. This didn't work, however, and the majority of the group's participants still continued to show such "polite" (but unhelpful) behavior toward me.

What can I do to increase the chances that others would tell me immediately when I make such mistakes, rather than not tell me or delay telling me in the name of "politeness"?

  • 1
    Is it that you need the feedback to come in a specific format, or are you able to be okay with "hey this is unwanted/uncomfortable etc" in a more general sense? What does good feedback look like to you? (aka I am wondering if people are giving social cues that you might not be aware of, etc) – Ash Sep 4 '18 at 19:20
  • @Ash I'd be okay with the latter. Most importantly, I'd prefer if they'd tell me immediately. – gparyani Sep 4 '18 at 19:22
  • alright, so if people go "don't do this because it's uncomfortable" that's enough? – Ash Sep 4 '18 at 19:28
  • @Ash I might ask them "why", but I'll probably do it later and that's a topic for another question. – gparyani Sep 4 '18 at 19:29
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    This question on The Workplace might be helpful, both as an example for how to better frame your question and how to deal with social faux pas when you have a disability that makes them hard to avoid. workplace.stackexchange.com/q/76866/26699 – ColleenV Sep 4 '18 at 19:45
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You've received lots of (correct, IMO) feedback about what you're doing wrong in raising your concerns, but you asked about how to ask for feedback in a different way, so I'll address that part.

Outside of close-knit communities, you cannot expect all members of a group to do something that is outside the bounds of normal conventions of politeness. Even if you say you want direct, frank feedback and not to worry about being impolite, you're putting the other people in the group in an awkward position if there's ever anybody in attendance who you isn't already clued in. You're asking Bob to be blunt with you, but Alice (who wasn't there when you made the request) sees Bob being a jerk. That's not fair to Bob.

Further, you are asking everybody else to take on a burden before, apparently, you have done what you can on your end. Requests for special accommodations generally work better when people see you making the effort. In your case, you can't understand things like facial expressions, so you should try to put more "checks" into your participation. When you give negative feedback (which you should improve per the other answers here) and aren't met with "thanks, good idea" or the like, correct immediately -- say something like "I'm sorry, was that too blunt?". Don't wait for them to tell you; assume you might have erred, because it's happened often before. And if they say "yes", be extra-careful in what else you say for a while. Show that you're trying to do better.

People have limits to what they're willing to change and according to your question they're already aggravated. So my last piece of advice is: find one person in the group who's willing to work with you and give you some coaching and feedback. One person in my social group has a very annoying habit and has a "buddy" with a special hand signal that means "you're doing it again; stop it". People who know know, but causal onlookers wouldn't notice anything special. The key to making this work is to internalize one thing: in the moment, the mentor is always right. Later, privately, the two of you can discuss and deconstruct what happened, but if you need this kind of help then by definition you can't evaluate the situation on your own, so you must be willing to trust the person you ask to be your mentor.

5

I am not diagnosed with autism, but I also tend to be more honest than polite. Since I am aware of that, I usually tell people to shut me down if it becomes too much for them. I usually do this at one of these two opportunities:

  • When the social situation is obviously something like a feedback round, a discussion table etc.

    I tend to step on people's toes sometimes, or say things more rudely than I mean to. Just in case you feel attacked at some point, let me know please, so I can clarify :)

This works well for me in non-formal situations with friends.

  • When I just said something that I'm not sure of whether it might be too much rudeness/honesty.

    Uhm, I should probably make clear that this is just my opinion and that I tend to be a bit too direct at times. I hope I didn't attack you on a personal level?

Both are obviously things that put you in subpar light. But that's better than putting them on the spot.

You can ask people one-on-one for feedback on your behaviour if you still feel like they are bothered by it. Make sure to actually listen to the feedback, and to give them the belief that you are considering it. That means among other things that you shouldn't justify too much (and in my experience, too much is way sooner than you'd think. People expect that you'll defend yourself and ignore their opinion.)
Asking for that feedback has multiple advantages:

  • You show that you care
  • They have an opportunity to tell you something that is bothering them without losing face in front of the whole group
  • You don't lose face by the whole group telling you that your communication skills suck.

Regarding your specific situation of giving feedback.

"your teaching style needs a lot of work because [x]"

Don't phrase it that way. Ever. The point of giving feedback is that they can change for the better. If you start a sentence with "You suck ...", everything else will be pretty much not heard by them in a helpful way. Instead, they will instantly erect a mental wall and only listen to you in order to find a reason why you are wrong.

Instead, start with something positive to get them into a state of actually listening. Then, explain to them what bothered you, but also explain how you think they could do it better. That's constructive. There's no need to tell them that they are really bad, just give them a few hints but by no means so much that they feel like they are doing a bad job. That would not help them become better, usually.

Make sure to end with another positive thing. You don't want them to forget about your actual constructive feedback, but you also don't want them to have the feeling of "you did not optimally" when you stop talking.

Make also sure to use "I think" and such, instead of "You are". Don't claim facts, especially not about them. That calls for trouble, even though both are - if one takes the time to actually think about it - quite obviously just your opinion.

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I think the key is, to let them save face. This is especially delicate when you give criticism in front of a group.

When you criticize someone in front of others, and you use wordings like your teaching style needs a lot of work it has a high potential they feel attacked and get defensive. What they will understand than is: You suck ...

In such situation´s it is especially hard to give you clues, as this would mean you had to admit you feel hurt. Admitting you feel hurt to someone who is just hurting you is especially difficult, as it adds additional attack surface. So the natural reaction, especially with people not too close to you is to hide any feelings. "Raise your shields" so to say.

You can try to take the bite out of it a little if you preface your criticism with a statement of your own inability to give good feedback - so you take some of the blame for any possible perceived attack beforehand - but this only goes to an certain extent.

In general, to prevent such misunderstandings you probably wont be able to rely on instant feedback in a live group situation. Instead, try to learn how to give constructive feedback in a 1-on-1 or training situation.

(How to give good feedback could make another good question, if it hasn´t already be answered.)

  • This is a valuable answer, especially the first sentence. But I think you only cover "How can I avoid them getting angry?", while the question asked was also "How can I tell them to make me aware when I'm stepping on their toes before it's too late?" – lucidbrot Sep 5 '18 at 11:05
  • @lucidbrot: Thanks, I tried to address that in the last two paragraphs. The essence is really you can´t. I´ll try to make it clearer. – user6109 Sep 5 '18 at 12:51
  • My bad, I see it now. The edit helps :) – lucidbrot Sep 5 '18 at 12:54
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Unfortunately, you're running into the fact that correcting adults is a violation of social convention. So for them to tell you that you're violating a social convention, they would need to violate a social convention.

Do you have some friends who are really comfortable with you and are willing to give you honest criticism? If so, one possibility could be to ask them if they would do some roleplaying with you. That's not as good as getting the actual people who are offended to tell you, early, why they're offended. But over time, it might give you a better idea of what kinds of communication triggers people.

I imagine a roleplaying session:

Them: OK, so what happened?

You: I said, "Your teaching needs a lot of work, because (X, Y, Z)."

Them: Yeah. Problem. 'needs a lot of work' is going to be taken by them as insulting. I can't explain exactly why, but people are going to take it as superior and condescending. I suggest that you cut that phrase out of your vocabulary. One possible alternative could be, 'I see some issues with X, Y, Z.'. Try rephrasing using that.

You: (rephrasing using his suggestion)

Them: OK, that was better, but then the way you described X....

This would, obviously, take a fair chunk of time. In an ideal world, you could do this friend a corresponding favor of some kind.

2

All good answers. Here's another trick you can try.

Because of my upbringing I speak very directly and confidently and I sometimes step on people's toes. So what I do to counteract that is act the opposite.

So instead of saying

Your teaching style needs a lot of work because [x]

I might say

I'm sorry, I'm confused. I see you doing [x] but I don't understand why. Could you help me understand how [x] would help me teach students?

In your case I might say (a couple of times, not every time):

I'm autistic so I have trouble understanding personal interactions sometimes. It's like I'm a Martian. How would you explain to a Martian like me how [x] helps teach students?

In both cases, in the ensuing conversation I would make as few declarative statements as possible. I would continue to ask clarifying questions in a respectful way until either the person realizes their mistake or someone else jumps in with feedback. Or you find out that what that person is doing is correct now that you understand the reasoning behind it.

When people are confronted in a way that emotionally engages them, they revert back to little monkeys. Little monkeys are concerned about dominance and fighting to maintain dominance. This is hardwired into each human brain. So you want to avoid emotionally engaging them and avoid confrontation that could be emotionally interpreted as attacking them to establish dominance. Then you're engaging the modern rational human. Emotion is left out of it.

If you need more help in respectfully engaging in feedback by asking questions, I suggest you study the Socratic Method and Socratic Dialogs, which will also be handy for your teaching.

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